Editorial: Cigarette tax hits low incomes againPublished 12:50pm Monday, February 20, 2012
Although its authors may be attempting to take aim at under-age smokers, a bill that two lawmakers plan to introduce this week also continues a developing pattern of balancing Minnesota’s spending challenges by piling expenses upon those who can least afford them.
Rep. Mike Benson and Sen. Carla Nelson, both Rochester Republicans, say they plan to introduce a bill that would more than double Minnesota’s tax on cigarettes, to $2.52 per pack. The increase, they contend, would make it harder for young people — who presumably have less disposable income — to get cigarettes.
Or course, the bill would also make it harder — disproportionately so — for anyone of limited means to buy cigarettes. Putting aside the question of whether anyone should buy cigarettes, it’s clear that this tax increase plan would hit hardest those with the lowest incomes. That is also true of a plan to end the state’s property tax on businesses and make up for the lost revenue by eliminating a tax credit that helps low-income renters.
While neither idea — discouraging smoking and reducing taxes on businesses — is intrinsically bad, the pattern is not favorable. Minnesota needs to find ways to balance its budget and to encourage economic growth. It needs to do both of those things as fairly as possible, which means not targeting any specific income group.
At this stage of the legislative session, most bills are still susceptible to change, and it’s hard to foresee what laws will eventually emerge. It would be best if, as the session matures, the pattern changes.